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12.14.2010

David and Goliath (1993)

Retold and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher


The phrase "David and Goliath" has such allegorical resonance, its sometimes easy to forget the specifics of the actual story.

I like that the first two pages of Fisher's adaption is a large map to give us - if nothing else - geographical context. It's kind of a strange map, now that I look at it. Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea take up about 80% of the two pages. Along the right-hand side of the right-hand page is a narrow green strip labeled, "Israel." To the left, a smaller golden landmass called Philistia, with the city of Gath pinpointed. And within Israel - right smack-dab between the 'R' and the 'A' - lies the Valley of Elah, where this most famous of all duels took place some thousands of years ago.

We begin the story with David tending his flock, gently putting them to sleep with the soothing tunes of his harp. "The music of David's harp filled all who heard it with joy." Such a gentle, nice boy. Not a mean bone in his body. Little do we suspect that within a handful of pages he will be holding aloft the decapitated head of his enemy, basking in the glory of his blood thirsty comrades!

But I get ahead of myself. One day David is summoned to King Saul, who - he has been told -- is filled with dark spirits. Indeed, we see him laying with his head on his fist, frowning and looking generally apathetic. It is only sweet David and his beautiful harp which can cheer the king up, and when he does so, Saul tells him, "I need you to stay so I can listen to the sound of your harp."

Then war comes, and armies come to clash and the fierce giant Goliath of Gath introduces himself to the Israelites. "Choose a man among you to fight me. If he wins, we are your slaves. If he loses, you are ours!" Fisher illustrates the giant as a fair-skinned relative of Frankenstein's monster, with a bit of a slow-look about the eyes. I was surprised to see that his Goliath wears no armor. I thought I had remembered that Goliath wore full battle dress, including a helmet which covered practically his entire head, and that his forehead was the only unprotected part of his body.

Sure enough, a quick read through my Barry-Moser-illustrated King James confirmed my memory as being accurate. I have to wonder why Fisher altered this detail.

Another discrepancy I thought I found was that in this story, David only hurtles one single stone at Goliath. I could have sworn that in the Bible, David hurtles three stones at the lumbering giant, and that it is only the third stone which hits its mark. Furthermore, I could have sworn that I've sat through Sunday School lessons in which the fact that David uses three stones was numerologically and cosmologically significant in some way. A glance through that wonderful King James with Barry Moser's magnificent woodcuts revealed me to be a liar. It was only one stone, and the battle was over before it began.

If you're going to take liberties with the text, however, I feel this would have been the place to do it. The battle could have been drawn out, made much more climactic. So much build-up... After page after page of boasting and praying, David hurtles his fateful stone and that's that. End of battle.

But maybe that's the point.

A turn of the page later, and there's Goliath's head, David's face twisted in rage. "Here is Goliath, our enemy!"

The final page shows David standing amongst his flock of sheep, having seemingly returned to his simple way of life, all killing and decapitations behind him. If only it were so.

David, the shepherd boy, had saved the land of the Israelites. One day he would be their king.
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Click here for more Bible stories from the Old Testament!

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